Thursday, September 23, 2010

I am an impure critic

I'm really behind on the conversation now.  Here's an effort at catching up.

Tall in the Saddle is an enjoyable b-western.  The story gets a little convoluted, but basically John Wayne plays a hired ranch hand who, after traveling west to get to the ranch, discovers that the ranch owner has been murdered.  A young woman and her aunt have come to take over the ranch.  A neighboring ranch is the property of a feisty young cowgirl interested in this new arrival.  Through it all, John Wayne is tall in the saddle.

My saying that there is "nothing comparable" today to Tall in the Saddle is simply a statement of fact.  B-westerns like this one, with endless variations, some better, some worse, some much worse, were commonplace in the 40s.  They don't exist today.  I enjoy the tropes and themes and even the repetition of these films.  I appreciate that I can feel comfortable watching many of these films with my whole family (and I did watch Tall in the Saddle with my girls).  Appaloosa, a recent film, is a great Western and one of my favorite films of the last decade.  It is, in my opinion, a much better film than Tall in the Saddle.  But Tall in the Saddle provides a specific type of edification and entertainment that I don't see often in today's film (or television) landscape.  There's a sort of innocence that has been lost.

Brandon has already written well about older movies vs. newer ones.  I envy Brandon's childhood film education, a natural nurturing transmission of taste from father to son.

My own experience with older film really started at Houghton.  I always loved movies, but I was really ignorant and had a limited perspective and lack of interest in the past; what C. S. Lewis has called "chronological snobbery."  Having access to the films in the library and taking an Art & History of Film survey class with Murph were both absolutely wonderful.

I don't want to get stuck in an either/or mentality.  There's lot of gold to dig up from the past, but I'm absolutely happy to be in the present and I'm excited about the future.  I don't prefer the past to the present or vice versa.  I think that I've proven over the past couple of years writing here that I very much love as many contemporary films as I do films from the past.  It is easier to find great films from the past because most of the wheat has already been separated from the chaff.  The good stuff has been proven over time.  

Still, I really enjoy the privilege of wading through the cruddy cinematic waters of 2010, being a part of that murky critical process of evaluation and canon forming, comparing my own personal favorites to Indiewire and Film Comment critic's polls and, yes, even taking into consideration box office results and strange cultural phenomenon.

I've already seen 27 feature films from 2010 (that's not counting 2009 releases that lots of others count toward 2010, but only those listed on IMDB as 2010 releases).  And I expect to see more than double that by the time all of the fall festival films make it out on DVD over the course of next year.  I don't know an exact count, but I've probably seen less than 10 films from 1944 in my whole life.  I'm sure there were a lot of bad movies released that year, worse than the most mediocre films that I've seen this year.  I'm glad I don't have to sit through them.  But part of the fun of engaging with the present is exactly that, always hoping for something astonishing, but often sitting through movies that disappoint instead.

Jason wrote: "The reason I cited my use of the Tomatometer was to say that sometimes I will weigh more heavily the audience percentage than the critic percentage because I believe these people are going into a film with fewer preconceived notions and prejudices. These are folks who either like something or they don't- film watching is a much more visceral experience for them, more honest sometimes."

I'm not sure if you really believe this or not, but it's complete bullshit.

(how's that for a friendly response? -we've gotten all of the disclaimers about loving and respecting each other out of the way, I'm ready to rumble)

The "audience" is not going into a film with "fewer preconceived notions and prejudices" than the critic is.  They are simply going in with DIFFERENT preconceived notions and prejudices, not fewer.  These audiences have very clear expectations about what a movie is and what it should do for them.  Put a generic movie fan, the kind who loves Transformers and Grown Ups, in front of a screen playing The Limits of Control (one of my favorites from last year) and you'll most likely find an angry audience.  You use the term visceral.  I'll stick with the admittedly hyperbolic term "mindless."  These audiences have a ton of preconceived notions and prejudices regarding movies, most of them being a lot less well thought out than the critic's notions and prejudices (assuming he's honest enough to admit them).  You seem to want to privilege uninformed opinions (all too often truly "informed" by expensive advertising campaigns and appeals to contemporary relevance).  I just can't do that.

That said, Brandon and I did talk about the benefit of non-cinephile opinions, including "uninformed" opinions.  I get a lot out of talking film with friends of mine who aren't movie addicts.  The thing is that I trust their opinions and views in lots of other matters, from systematic theology to animal husbandry.  I'm talking about people that I already know and trust.  I really want to know their opinions, regardless of whether or not they know James Whale from James Franco.  I'm not at all interested in getting the movie opinions of the thousand teenage girls that showed up for the last Justin Bieber concert or the countless dudes playing beer pong every night in their basement.

Enough about that.

Lady in the Water might be my favorite Shyamalan film.  Bordwell has written a good defense of the film - try to find it on his website.

What have I been watching?  I'll have a new post up soon.

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